Positive Discipline: A Guide for Parents

Positive Discipline:
A Guide for Parents
Copyright © 2009, Regents of the University of Minnesota.
All rights reserved.
Table of Contents
Discipline Is Teaching
Babies (Birth to 18 months).............................................9
Development and Discipline
Gaining Confidence as a Parent
When Babies Cry
Helping Children Sleep
Toddlers (18 months to 3 years) ..................................17
Development and Discipline
Getting Into Everything
When Toddlers Should Not Touch
They Think They’re in Charge
Toilet Teaching
Preferring One Parent
Making a Mess
They Can’t Sit Still
Preschoolers (3 to 5 years)............................................31
Development and Discipline
Bedtime Battles
The Picky Eater
Power Struggles
Wetting the Bed
Grade School (5 to 9 years).......................................... 41
Development and Discipline
When Kids Break Rules
Sibling Battles
Bad Language
Talking Back
About Spanking ........................................................... 48
Time Out........................................................................54
Resources for Parents....................................................57
Dear Parents:
Being a parent is the most important job you
will ever have! Parenting will affect not only your
child, but also you as a person. Parenting comes
with many rewards and challenges. You have the
opportunity to influence the type of person your
child becomes, receive many smiles and hugs
and kisses, laugh often, play, and watch your child
grow and develop. You also often will wonder if
you said and did the right thing, or could have
done things better.
Parents love their children and want the best
for them. However, children don’t come with
directions and don’t always respond or behave
the way you want them to. Sometimes, just when
you think you have figured things out, your child
moves into a new stage of development and what
worked before doesn’t work anymore. The new
stage brings you new joys and challenges.
Positive Discipline: A Guide for Parents gives
you information and tools to help with common
parenting experiences you may have from the
time your child is an infant through the early
grade school years.
The strategies in this booklet promote positive
development in children and positive parent-child
relationships. We do not recommend spanking.
Spanking does not promote positive development
and can lead to other problems. Children who
are guided by methods other than spanking
generally have better mental health, feel better
about themselves, and are less stressed. Good
health is what we are trying to achieve. There
are many strategies other than spanking that
promote positive development, and help a child
learn self-control, what is expected, and how to
behave appropriately.
There are many other resources in your
community and neighborhood to help you with
positive discipline—your child’s doctor and
teacher, the public health nurse, the Cooperative
Extension office, and the early childhood and
family educator through the public school to
name a few.
Parenting is a learned experience. People get
their ideas on how to parent from how they
were raised, books, magazines, newspapers,
the Internet, television, workshops, doctors and
other family professionals, friends, and family
members. As a parent, your job is to sift through
this information and find strategies and supports
that will work best for you and your child. The
goal is to become the best parent you can be.
Enjoy parenthood!
Di s ci pl i ne
Discipline Is Teaching
D i scipline
i s te a ching
helps children
understand what
you expect, how
to behave, and
what happens
The word discipline comes from a
Latin word that means “to teach.” As
a parent, you are a teacher. The way
you discipline your children will help
them learn.
Nurturing your child
Nurturing is where you need to put most of
your effort. Children learn best when they
know they are loved and supported. Here
are some ideas:
• Love your children, no matter what
they do.
• Listen to your children.
• When they are being good, tell them.
when they
• Expect the best from your children.
Discipline helps
• Make sure they are safe—physically
and emotionally.
children be in
• Be a good role model.
control of their
own behavior.
Guiding your child
Children need you to help them
understand what kinds of behaviors you
expect from them and what rules you
expect them to follow. They also need
help from you to manage their feelings,
understand responsibility, and learn how
to control themselves. Your child needs to
know what will happen if rules are broken.
Here are some ideas:
• Help your child learn to solve
• Show your child how to do things.
• Take your child away from situations your child
can’t handle.
• Help your child learn how to calm down.
• Prepare your child for difficult situations.
• Say “yes” when you can and “no” when you need to.
• Give your child a chance to do it the right way.
Responding to your child’s misbehavior
When children misbehave, there is usually a reason. They
may be tired, hungry, frustrated, seeking attention, or
wanting control. If you can figure out what is causing
the misbehavior, you will have more success responding
to the misbehavior and preventing the behavior in
the future. For example, if you observe your sevenyear old always having meltdowns when getting home
from school, then you need to think about what might
be causing the meltdowns. Perhaps your child is tired
and hungry at the end of the day, or something was
frustrating at school. Talk to the teachers to see how
school is going. Try to have a nutritious snack and provide
some quiet time reading or playing a game to help your
child make the transition from school to home.
Other strategies to consider:
• Take away a privilege and give the child a chore to do.
• Firmly tell your child that what he or she did was not
• If something is damaged, expect the child to fix it,
make a new one, or help pay for a new one.
• Use a “time out.”
• Let children safely experience the consequences of
their actions.
P arent Q uestion
What does “consequence” mean?
A consequence is a result of something a
person does. When children misbehave,
parents need to respond in a way that helps
them learn about the effects of their behavior
and how to plan differently for the next time.
Consequences should give a child the chance
to be forgiven. A consequence is more
effective than pain, fear, shame, or humiliation.
Parents must decide whether to respond
with a logical or a natural consequence. An
example of a logical consequence: a child
colors on the wall—the child helps clean the
wall. An example of a natural consequence: a
child refuses to eat dinner—the child will be
hungry later.
Birth to 18 months
Development and Discipline
Infants come into the world ready to learn and grow.
• Babies learn through all their senses. They often use their
mouths to explore objects around them.
• Babies learn to talk by listening and responding to the
people in their lives.
• Babies use crying to tell you something is bothering them.
• Babies need to be loved, safe, and secure.
Parents must understand that babies are exploring their world
and learning how others respond to them. Babies do not
misbehave on purpose—they are simply curious!
P arent Q uestion
What should I know about discipline
for my baby?
• Give your baby lots of love. Remember,
you can’t spoil a child with too much love.
• Never spank or shake your baby.
• Move your baby when he or she gets
into things that are not okay.
• Put unsafe things out of your
baby’s reach.
• If your infant wants something not good
for babies, offer something that is okay.
• Try to have a regular routine to
your baby’s day, especially for eating
and sleeping.
• When you get tired or things become too
much for you, find a way to take a break.
Gaining Confidence as
a Parent
It will take time to feel comfortable with your
new baby. You and your baby need to know
each other. Every baby is different. It takes
time to learn your baby’s eating, sleeping,
and attention needs. Keep your days as
simple as possible. Try to talk regularly with
a friend, family member, or another adult
who cares. If you’re feeling really low, unsure,
or frustrated, call your baby’s doctor, or call
one of the numbers listed at the back of this
“I felt pretty good
about being a
parent while I was
in the hospital
with my newborn,
but once I got
home, I lost my
P arent Q uestion
What is “attachment?”
Attachment is the strong feeling
parents and children have for each
other. Most children who develop
strong and secure attachments with
their parents and other important
adults in their lives grow up to be
confident and caring.
When Babies Cry
Crying is your baby’s way of talking
to you. Your baby will cry because of:
• Hunger
• Tiredness
• Illness
• Loneliness
• Wet diaper
“Sometimes it
seems like all
my baby does is
• Being overwhelmed with people
• Stomach gas
• Being too hot or too cold
• Needing your love and attention
cry. If I pick my
P arent T ip
baby up, will I
You cannot spoil a baby. A baby
often cries less when picked up and
comforted. You cannot hold and
comfort a baby too much. Your baby
is learning to trust you and that you
will be there when needed. With
practice you’ll get to know what
your baby’s cries are telling you.
spoil my baby?”
“There are times when
my baby cries really
hard. And when the cries
go on for a long time,
it can make me really
tense and frustrated.”
When a baby cries and cries, you need to do
your best to stay calm. First, try to figure out
why your baby is crying.
• Try “swaddling” your baby by wrapping
your baby snugly in a blanket and holding
your baby close.
Take a few minutes to relax. Put your baby in a
safe place, like a crib with the side up. Then go
someplace in the house where you can’t hear
the crying, until you feel calmer.
• Put your baby in a stroller and go
for a walk.
• Take your baby for a ride in the car.
• Try “wearing” your baby in a sling or baby
carrier. Your body motion and heartbeat
can feel calming to a baby.
• Try rocking your baby or singing softly.
• Call a friend.
Often, when you can figure out the problem
and what will help, crying will stop.
Even though you may feel like shaking or
spanking your baby, this is never okay. Babies’
bodies are very fragile. Shaking or spanking can
hurt your baby badly and even cause death.
Is my baby sleeping
through the night YET?
“Everybody asks me if my
baby is sleeping through the
night. I feel like something is
wrong when I say ‘no.’”.
P arent Q uestion
What is “colic” and what can I do?
No one knows what causes colic. Colic usually
starts when babies are three weeks old and
may continue until they are three months old.
Most babies outgrow colic. Babies with colic
cry loudly, and often cry at the same time each
day. When your baby is crying like this, try to
stay calm. Try some of the ideas given in this
booklet to comfort your baby. Take a break, call
a friend, talk to your baby’s doctor, or call one
of the numbers listed at the back of this book.
Helping Children Sleep
Most newborns do not sleep through the night.
Some babies don’t sleep through the night
consistently until they are six to nine months
old. Your newborn baby may need to be fed,
changed, and comforted often. Enjoy this quiet
time with your new baby. Your baby is not
trying to make your life difficult.
At 3 months:
Babies are able to entertain themselves by gazing at toys
over the crib or listening to rattles. They are able to expand
time between feedings to three or four hours and extend
night sleep for longer periods. To help your baby sleep
longer periods at night:
• Make sure your baby is getting enough to eat during
the day.
• Try to increase the last feeding before bed.
Keep middle-of-the-night attention short. Just feed your
baby or change the diaper if it is soiled or very wet.
P arent Q uestion
Will feeding my baby cereal at bedtime encourage
sleeping through the night?
No. Most babies cannot digest cereal until they are four to
six months old.
P arent T ip
Back to sleep
Putting babies to sleep on their backs reduces the risk
of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Make sure the
mattress is firm and fits the crib tightly. Remove quilts,
pillows, and soft toys from the crib. Use a sleeper instead of
covering your baby with a blanket. Do not place your baby
on a waterbed, sofa, soft mattress, pillow, or other soft
surface to sleep.
At 7-8 months:
At seven to eight months, babies have begun to soothe
themselves when they are distressed and settle themselves
when they are tired. However, they will continue to work on these
accomplishments. If they are never allowed to soothe or settle
themselves on their own, they likely will become dependent
upon others to get to sleep.
Help your baby find a way to get comfortable and fall
back to sleep without your help. You might want to try one
of the following.
• Stand by your baby’s crib. You don’t need to pick up
your baby.
• Gently pat your baby.
• Talk to your baby. The sound of your voice will let your baby
know everything is okay and it’s time to sleep.
• Have a bedtime routine including having a quiet bath, reading
a picture book, dimming the lights, rocking, or singing.
• Give hugs and kisses as a major part of the bedtime routine.
If you need more ideas, call your child’s doctor or call one of the
numbers at the back of this booklet.
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Stranger anxiety
When they are seven to eight months old, many babies start to
go through a period where they only want to be around people
they know well. Understand your baby’s need to be with trusted
people. Give your baby time to get used to new people—let
your child feel in control. Do not force your baby to be held by
someone who is not welcomed by the baby. Show your baby
that you are a safe haven by understanding the baby’s fears.
18 months to 3 years
Development and Discipline
Toddlers are becoming independent and learning about the
world they live in.
• Toddlers need to explore, run, climb, taste, and touch.
They may get upset when you try to stop them.
• Toddlers know what they want and will tell you. They can
get frustrated when you don’t understand their words.
• Toddlers watch what others do and copy them. They
will do what they see you, other family members, and
characters from television or movies do.
• Toddlers have minds of their own, but they need you to
help them when they get frustrated and to protect them
from danger.
• Disciplining toddlers means gradually teaching them to
control their impulses to touch, taste, jump, run, and climb.
P arent Q uestion
What works to discipline my toddler?
• Give your toddler lots of love.
• Find things to say “yes” to.
• Let your child know you’re pleased with
good behavior.
• Never spank or shake your toddler.
• Put unsafe things out of your child’s reach.
• When toddlers want something they can’t have,
sympathize with their disappointment or frustration
and interest them in something they can have.
• Try to have a regular routine to your day.
• Parents need to be present at all times to serve as
“brakes” for exploring toddlers.
• When you get tired or things become too much for
you, give yourself a break from parenting.
• Ask yourself whether your child is misbehaving, or just
trying to learn something.
• If you have made a “bad call” about your child’s
behavior, admit your mistake and apologize.
• Act the way you want your child to act. If you yell, so
will your child.
• Make sure you have your child’s attention; be specific
and direct when you ask your child to do something.
• Be realistic about what your toddler can do
“Now that my
baby is on the
move, how do
I teach him
not to touch
Getting Into Everything
Toddlers need you to be with them at all times.
You’ve probably noticed toddlers get into
everything. It is the job of toddlers to explore their
world. This is how children learn.
Here are some ways to make your home a safe
place for your child:
• Put breakable or unsafe items, including electric
cords, out of your child’s reach.
• Use safety covers on electric outlets.
• Put safety locks on cupboards and drawers.
• Use safety gates on stairs and rooms that
aren’t safe.
• Push chairs under tables.
• When you take something unsafe away, you
can expect your child to be upset. Try offering a
safe toy to divert attention.
P arent Q uestion
Why childproof?
• It’s important to make sure
that anywhere toddlers go
is safe. Toddlers need to
explore everything around
them. They will touch, taste,
roll, poke, and examine all
they can see. This is how
toddlers learn. Help them
explore safely by putting
things they shouldn’t have
out of reach. You can begin
teaching older toddlers not
to touch certain things.
So what about television?
• Toddlers need to actively
explore their environment in
order to grow and develop.
Children under the age of
two years should not spend
time watching television.
Television is a passive
activity. TV does not engage
children in an active process
of learning, moving, or
playing with others. TV is
a powerful attraction and
parents need to work hard
to limit TV time. Find other
activities to do with your
child such as reading, art
projects, or playing outside.
“When my child
heads for the hot
stove, I yell
‘No, no, no!’”.
When Toddlers Should
Not Touch
Children are curious and want to see what
work you are doing at the stove. Instead of
slapping hands or yelling, pull your child
away and say “No, the stove is hot and will
hurt you.”. Children learn when you tell them
over and over that things are unsafe.
While you wait for learning to take place:
• Remove the child from the unsafe
place or item.
• Try to interest the child in something
else, such as plastic bowls, pan lids, or
wooden spoons.
Have a safe place for your toddler to play
while you’re in the kitchen.
P arent T ip
“Me do it!”
If you have a toddler, you’ve heard this a lot.
Usually, “me do it” isn’t a problem unless
you’re in a hurry. Encourage your child to
be independent. Give chances to put on
clothes, brush teeth, and climb into car
seats. You will need to allow extra time while
your child learns to do these tasks, but the
more tries, the sooner your child will be able
to do these things and save you time later.
Tantrums usually result when a child is tired,
hungry, angry, or frustrated. Your toddler may
clench her fists, shut her eyes, and scream. He
may kick, throwing himself to the floor, and make
a real scene.
Try to prevent tantrums from happening. Make
sure your child gets enough sleep. Avoid taking
your child someplace when the child is hungry
or tired. If you don’t have a choice, bring along
healthy snacks, books, favorite toys, or crayons
and paper to keep your child from becoming
bored and upset.
Why are tantrums so common at this age?
• Toddlers are curious. They don’t understand
why they can’t always touch, taste, and
explore everything around them.
• Toddlers usually can’t tell you in
words what they want. This can
make them angry.
• When toddlers are hungry, tired, hot,
uncomfortable, or want attention, they often
react with strong emotions.
Tantrums are normal. Let your child have the
tantrum, as long as she is safe and no one else
is being hurt. Let your child know you understand
he is upset.
• When you are at home, stay calm and ignore
the tantrum.
• When you are in a public place, stay calm and
remove the child. Go to a quiet place until
your child can calm down.
• Some children have trouble calming down.
Hold your child gently, talk softly, and explain
that everything will be okay.
No matter where you are, the tantrum will end
sooner if you respond calmly.
When a child has a tantrum in a public place, you
may be tempted to avoid a scene by giving your
child what he or she wants. When parents do this,
children learn that they can get what they want if
they kick and scream enough, and you will have
more tantrums in the future.
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Try distraction
A way to guide a small child’s behavior is to direct
the child’s interest somewhere else. If your child
wants something you don’t want the child to have,
give a safe toy to play with. If your child moves
toward an open stairway, take your child to a
different part of the room.
They Think They’re in Charge!
By age two, children start to know they can do
some things on their own. They are excited
about their new skills and want to use them!
Here are some ways to help you and your
toddler practice new skills:
• Give choices when you can. Ask, “Do you
want to ride in the shopping cart today or
do you want to walk?”
• Plan extra time so your child can do things
independently. This will result in less stress
for you and your child.
• Allow child to get in the car seat alone.
Ask if help is needed.
• Stick to important rules. Then your child
will be safe and know what to expect. For
example, children have to ride in the car
seat; it isn’t a choice.
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Avoid power struggles – no one wins
Your toddler is trying to test out new skills and
wants control. Parents are in a hurry and also
want control. Parents need to have patience
with toddlers and create ways for them to have
control so they can learn about themselves and
how they influence their surroundings. However,
there are times when you need to say “no” for
your child’s safety such as, “You have to hold
my hand when we cross the street.”.
“My sweet little
baby has turned
into a bossy
child, refusing
to do anything I
say. The reply to
‘Please sit in the
shopping cart
(or car seat).’ is
always ‘No!’”
“I don’t know
what to do.
The other day
my toddler bit
another child.”
It is very common for toddlers to bite, kick, and
hit other children. Toddlers get excited and
overstimulated and biting can be the result. When
parents react excitedly, a child may learn to use
biting to get attention.
Here are some ways to prevent biting:
• Watch your child and look for signs of over
stimulation. Remove your child from the
situation and help the child calm down.
• Toddlers get angry and frustrated when they
are hungry and tired. If this happens often,
try to change the child’s eating and sleeping
schedule, or keep your child away from other
children during these times.
• Comfort the child who has been bitten.
• Talk with others who take care of your child
about other ideas and suggestions.
• Try to learn what prompted the biting. Young
children have few skills to solve problems with
other children.
If your child bites, tell the child firmly that biting
isn’t okay and take your child away from the other
children. Help your child to think about how the
other child feels and to consider ways to say
“sorry.” Never bite your child back. This does not
teach a child to stop biting and it may make the
biting worse.
Toilet Teaching
You can encourage toilet teaching, but don’t
rush it. Often parents are ready for toilet
teaching before their child is. Your child may
be ready to start toilet teaching when:
• Your child tells you, “I need to go to the
• Your child tells you about a wet or
soiled diaper.
Most children do not understand their “need
to go” until they are three years old. A twoyear-old may start toilet teaching, but may not
be fully trained until age three or even older.
Do not punish or shame a child for wetting or
soiling diapers or underwear. Doing so can
make the child feel bad about something that
cannot be controlled, and may make toilet
teaching take longer.
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Staying dry
• Usually around age two, a child can start to
learn about toileting.
• By age three-and-a-half many, but not all,
children are able to stay dry while awake.
• By age five many, but not all, children stay
dry at nap time and through the night.
“I worry that I
should be doing
more to help
toilet train my
“I am so tired of
trying to get my
two-year-old to
Sharing is not something most two-yearolds understand. Your child won’t begin to
understand sharing until three or four years of
age. The more you push sharing at age two,
the more your child may refuse and the more
frustrated you may become. Here’s what you
can do:
• Praise your child for sharing.
• Show how to share by sharing some of
your things with your child.
• When children are playing together, make
sure there are plenty of toys for all the
children to use.
Your child will begin to catch on that sharing
is a good thing.
Preferring One Parent
“My child won’t
allow anyone
but me to help.”
It is normal for toddlers to go through a stage
when they prefer one parent over the other
parent. However, a parent may find it stressful
to be the only one allowed to do things for the
child, such as put on shoes, get food, or get
ready for bed. Try not to make it a big issue
or take this behavior personally. Continue with
both parents interacting positively with the child
and with the help of the “preferred” parent, the
behavior will soon change.
Making a Mess
Toddlers need constant supervision. Toddlers
want to touch, taste, see, and explore
everything. This is how toddlers learn about
their world. Try to keep messy items out of
reach. Give toddlers safe places to explore.
• Toddlers don’t make messes to make you
angry. They make messes because they are
learning how things work.
• Don’t ignore the mess your child made.
This is the perfect chance to teach about
cleaning up messes. Show your child how
to help you clean up.
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Keeping track of your toddler
It’s important to always know where your
toddlers are and what they are doing. A
toddler’s job is to explore. Your job is to make
sure your child is safe. Keep a constant eye on
your toddler and put things you don’t want
your child to have out of reach.
“The other day
my 2 1/2-yearold poured
chocolate syrup
all over the living
room carpet. I
was so angry and
I didn’t know
what to do!”
My Toddler Can’t Sit Still
“Why can’t my
ever sit still and
be quiet?”
Toddlers aren’t supposed to sit still or be
quiet for very long! You toddler is curious,
needs to move, and loves to run and jump!
Toddlers enjoy talking, sometimes loudly, to
you and others.
There are times when you do need your child
to sit still and be quiet. Here are some things
you can try:
• Bring small toys or picture books to give
your child something okay to do.
• Bring a snack that isn’t too messy, such
as crackers, fruit, or cheese.
• Give your child as much attention as
you can.
• Point out objects in the room to divert
your child’s interest.
• Play patty cake or other games.
• Make sure there is active time before
your child must sit still.
• In some situations, you and your child
can move to a place where you won’t
disturb others.
If you have other questions about your child’s
development at this age, talk to your child’s
doctor or call one of the numbers at the back
of this booklet.
3 to 5 years
Development and Discipline
Preschool-age children live in the present. They are excited about
everything they can do and what they know. Usually they like being
with other children, pretending, and trying to do what adults and older
siblings do. At the same time, they want to be your baby.
• Preschoolers may insist on doing things for themselves, even when
they don’t know how.
• Preschoolers will test the rules and argue about rules they don’t
agree with.
• Preschoolers have great imaginations! They tell creative stories
and may be afraid of the dark, animals, monsters, and more.
• Preschoolers enjoy being in charge and telling others what to do.
• Preschoolers watch you closely. Your actions teach them far more
than your words.
• Preschoolers want to please you.
• Preschoolers need your love.
P arent Q uestion
What are the best ways to discipline my
• Give your child lots of love.
• Put unsafe things out of your child’s reach.
• Try to have a regular routine to your day.
• Ask yourself: Is my child misbehaving or just
trying to learn something?
• Act the way you want your child to act.
• Be specific and direct when you ask your
child to do something.
• Be realistic about what your child can do.
• Spend time with your child; especially play
time where your child gets to be in charge.
• Catch your child being good, and let your
child know you noticed.
• Prepare your child for occasions that may
be upsetting.
• When your child is having a difficult time,
help your child take a break or a “time out.”
• Explain the rules and what will happen if the
rules are broken.
• Be consistent. Follow through with what
you say.
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Be prepared for difficult situations
If you dread taking your preschooler to the clinic,
grocery store, or other places where your child
might misbehave, here are some things to try:
• Before you go, talk to your child about the
behavior you expect. For example, say “You
must stay in the grocery cart, and not ask for
things in the store.”.
• Try not to take your child places when you
know your child will be tired or hungry.
• Bring along snacks and toys.
• If your child has trouble when you’re in the
store or clinic, give a reminder about the rules.
Ask your child to say what the rules are.
• Let your preschooler know how proud you are
when you see good behavior.
Bedtime Battles
“Bedtime is so
stressful at my
house. By the
time I get my
children to bed,
I’m too tired
to do anything
One of the best things you can do for yourself and
your child is to set a bedtime routine.
• Decide what time your child should go to bed.
• Start your routine about 30 minutes to an hour
before bedtime.
• The child’s routine may include a bath, a light
snack, brushing teeth, and story time. This is
not a good time to start playful wrestling or
action games.
• Try to stick to your routine every night.
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Is your child afraid of the dark?
Talk with your children about their fears. Children’s fears
are real. Do not make fun of them or say they aren’t real.
Place a night light or small lamp in the room, or leave a
hallway light on until your child falls asleep. Some children
feel more secure with a special blanket or stuffed animal.
Helping your child learn to deal with fear of the dark also
may help your child deal with other fears.
If you are trying a bedtime routine for the first time, you
can expect it won’t work perfectly until the habits are
firmly set.
• Your child may keep coming out of the room. Be firm
and gently lead your child back to bed. You
may need to do this several times.
• Most children go through a stage where they are
afraid of the dark. Understand that your child’s fear is
real, provide comfort, and find ways to overcome it.
• Use a night light or small lamp, or leave a light on in
the hallway.
• Some children need more time to fall asleep.
Allow your child to look at a book, or talk to
stuffed animals.
• Your child needs to get comfortable enough to fall
asleep. This may be different for every child. Try
to find ways to help your child relax. Have your
child breath slowly, sing a quiet song, or hold a
stuffed animal.
• Sometimes shortening the afternoon nap or making
sure a child doesn’t nap in the late afternoon will
help your child to be ready for sleep at bedtime.
“No matter how much
I try, my four-year-old
won’t eat most of the
things I put on the plate.
I don’t want to cook two
different meals.”
The Picky Eater
To avoid picky eating and to create pleasant mealtimes, keep
in mind that a parent’s job is to provide a variety of healthy
food choices and a child’s job is to choose what and how much
to eat. Make family meals a time for family talk, not for punishment
or pressure.
• Offer your child a variety of healthy foods that are colorful and
have different textures.
• If your child doesn’t like a new food, put a small amount on the
plate. Ask your child to try one or two bites. Don’t force eating.
• Don’t insist children eat everything on their plates. This can
lead to unhealthy eating behaviors.
• Some children don’t like different foods mixed together.
Your child may be willing to eat a serving of rice and a serving
of corn, but won’t eat them mixed together.
• Some children may say they are too full to eat much of their
meal, but they will have plenty of room for dessert. To avoid
using dessert as a reward, but rather as the last part of a meal,
let your child know that it is okay to leave the table if he or she
is done eating. Explain that dessert comes when everyone is
ready. Or make sure dessert is a healthy food. Choices could
be: a sliced apple with peanut butter or yogurt with granola.
• Remember, tastes change. One day your child will surprise
you and like the food refused before.
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Helping in the kitchen
Your preschool child is at a good age to start helping
in the kitchen. Let your child help plan and fix meals.
Preschoolers love to stir and mix things in a bowl.
They can help clean and set the table (for example,
place napkins and plastic cups on the table). Help
your children learn to choose from a variety of
healthy foods. They will learn a lot, and feel their
choices are important.
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What kind of snacks are healthy?
Instead of soda pop, mix equal parts 100% fruit juice
and sparkling water. Instead of candy, offer your
child small carrots, celery and peanut butter, banana
chunks, apple slices, raisins, or cut grapes. Instead
of chips, give cheese or crackers. For a cool treat,
freeze 100% fruit juice in a paper cup with a straw in
the middle to make a popsicle.
Here are some more ideas:
• Be realistic about how much food you or your
child puts on the plate. Children do not need
adult-size helpings of food.
• A child’s taste buds are much more sensitive
than yours. Children typically do not like strongtasting foods, such as onions, or foods that are
not a familiar color or texture.
• Serving foods warm versus hot brings out flavor
the best and is safest for your child’s sensitive
tongue and skin.
• It is normal for children to be hungry one day
and eat very little the next.
• Children have smaller stomachs than adults.
They need less food at one time, and need to
eat more often during the day.
• Help your child get needed nutrients by
providing healthy snacks throughout the day.
Offer your child water throughout the day
instead of always offering milk, fruit juices, or
other beverages.
• If you are concerned about your child’s eating,
talk to your child’s doctor.
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Dinner time messes
Your child is learning how to use utensils, drink
from a cup, and sit during mealtime. You can keep
some mealtime accidents from happening. Use
child-size cups, utensils, and plates. Use lids on
cups and bowls or plates with high sides. Booster
seats help children sit at a better height for eating.
Make sure the booster seat is strapped to the
chair, so it doesn’t slip.
Power Struggles
Anger and frustration are often a parent’s first
response when a child refuses to do something.
When you get angry, so will your child. First, ask
yourself if it’s an important struggle. If it’s not,
then let it go your child’s way. If it is important,
walk away until your child calms down. Then,
proceed with your request. If your child argues,
walk away again. Make it clear that there is not a
choice and you will have to give a consequence if
your child doesn’t change the behavior. To avoid
power struggles in the first place, offer your child
a choice. At bath time, rather than ask, “Are you
ready for your bath?,” say, “Its bath time. Do you
want bubbles or plain water?”.
Use simple words when you talk to your child. Be
direct and specific about what you want done.
Instead of saying, “Clean up this mess.,” say,
“I want you to pick up your blocks and put them
in the toy box.”.
Sometimes it is better to act than to talk. You’ve
asked your child several times to sit and eat
dinner, but your child continues to dance around
the kitchen. Stop talking and calmly remove the
child’s plate from the table. If the child wants
to eat, your child can have the food back when
sitting down on the chair ready to eat. In most
cases, the child will return to sit down and eat.
Sometimes your child does annoying things to get
your attention. If you don’t react, chances are the
behavior will stop. Save your energy for the
bigger issues.
“I say ‘no,’
my child says
‘yes.’ Why does
everything have
to be such a
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Understanding your child’s feelings
When your child gets frustrated, angry, or sad, tell
your child you understand. Say “I can see you’re
upset.”. Sometimes that’s all it takes to make your
child feel better or calmer. Acknowledging feelings
doesn’t mean you are “giving in” or approving of
the behavior. It helps identify the emotion.
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“I thought my
child would
have stopped
wetting the
bed by now!”
What is “time out?”
Time out means taking a child away from a
frustrating or stressful situation to help calm both
the child and the parent. This shows children that
it is okay to take a time out when you need it.
See the section on “Time Out” at the back of this
booklet for how to use this strategy.
Wetting the Bed
Most children are able to stay dry through the night
by the time they begin kindergarten or soon after.
If, by six years of age, your child doesn’t stay dry
continuously throughout the night, visit with your
doctor. However, a child may occasionally wet the
bed later due to stress. If your child is upset about
wetting the bed, let your child know that growing
bigger and older will help to correct the problem.
Don’t make a big deal of it.
In the meantime:
• Limit beverages after the evening meal.
• Avoid drinks with caffeine because they
stimulate urination.
• Use disposable underwear.
• Use a waterproof mattress pad or have your
child sleep on a towel that can be removed if it
is wet.
• Make sure your child uses the bathroom right
before bed.
Waking your child in the middle of the night for a
trip to the bathroom may cause more stress than
it’s worth. If you are still concerned, talk to your
child’s doctor.
Some children whine when they want something,
others whine when they are tired, hungry, or
stressed. Here are some things you can do:
• When your child starts to complain and whine
because something is wanted that can’t be
had, give a hug and say you understand the
feelings of sadness or anger. Tell the child,
“When you whine, no one wants to listen.”.
Suggest or show ways of talking that will be
taken more seriously. You may need to repeat
this more than once.
• If the whining continues, stay calm and leave
the scene.
• It is important to not give in to whining,
pouting, tantrums, hitting, or other negative
behaviors. If children get what they want when
they behave this way, they will continue to
behave negatively.
Parent Tip
Catch your child being good
Tell children what you like about their good
behavior. Say, “I like it when you talk quietly when
I am on the phone.”. Praise and encouragement
work very well in helping your child understand
what you expect.
“What can I
do with my
All he does is
5 to 9 years
Development and Discipline
Grade school children are learning about the real world, interacting with
new people and ideas, and rapidly becoming more independent.
• Being the center of attention is very important to children of
this age.
• Friends are becoming important to early grade school children.
They need to learn to talk with others, to understand other
children’s feelings, and what it means to be a friend.
• Parents continue to be very important. Your child needs you to
help with the transition from home to school, and to make rules
and see they are followed. Children need parents’ support to
try new things, and to show how to solve problems. They need
parents to listen to their concerns.
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What are the best ways to discipline my
grade school child?
• Love your child, no matter what your
child does.
• Be a good role model.
• Keep a regular schedule.
• Be clear about what you expect your child to
do and how to do it.
• Show your child you are interested in what he
or she is doing.
• Try to see your child’s point of view.
• Use stories to help make your point.
• Be willing to review the rules as your
child grows. Make changes when needed
to accommodate your child’s growing
independence and abilities.
• Take away a privilege for misbehaving,
or add an extra household task.
• Set up a system so your child can earn
• Expect children to help fix or pay for things
they break.
• Be consistent. Follow through with what
you say.
• When your child is having a difficult time,
help your child take a break (“time out”).
• Tell your child specifically what behavior
you are disappointed with, as well as what
behaviors you are proud of.
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Help your children improve their
ABCs by helping them get their Zs
Did you know that most grade school students
need 10 hours of sleep each night? Children who
are well rested are better able to pay attention in
school and are more ready to learn.
When Kids Break Rules
“I don’t get it.
My son used to
follow the rules,
but now it seems
like he tries to
break every one
of them.”
Children go through stages when they test the
rules. Your child may feel some of the old rules
have become too childish.
• Stay calm and in control. Review the rule and
why you have it. Decide if it still fits or if your
child has outgrown the rule. Think about why
your child might have broken the rule and if
he or she knows the rule.
• If you decide to change a rule, talk with your
child about how the rule should change and
what will happen if the rule is broken.
• Discuss with your child about why you
have the rule.
• When your child breaks a rule, don’t ignore it.
Respond as soon as possible. Make sure
your response teaches your child why the
rule is important and how to behave better
in the future.
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What can I do when my child breaks a rule?
Rules keep us safe, show us a way to act, and help
us get along with others. When your child breaks
a rule, you need to respond in a way that lets your
child see why the rule is important to follow. One
good way to do this is to use a consequence. For
example, you have a rule that no one watches
television until homework is done. Your child
watches a video before doing schoolwork. The
consequence for breaking the rule is no television
watching for a day. When you have stated this
clearly, be sure to follow through.
Children lie because they are afraid to face what
they have done. They may think they will be
punished, feel they’ve been trapped, or just think
it is easier to lie. Children also go through stages
where lying is more common.
• Make it clear you know your child is lying.
• Tell your child that you don’t like to hear lying.
• Try to avoid putting your child in a situation
where there is temptation to lie again to cover
up the first lie.
• Make sure that the adults in your home do not
lie. Children are more likely to do what you do
than do what you say.
• Make it clear to your child that lying isn’t
acceptable. Praise your child for telling the
truth in a difficult situation.
• Let your child know that even though you are
disappointed in the behavior, you love him.
“The other day
my daughter
lied about taking
some money out
of my dresser.
When I asked
her about it she
said it was an
Sibling Battles
“I’m about
ready to pull
my hair out!
Why can’t my
children get
Grade school children are at the age where getting
along with brothers and sisters can be difficult. You
want your children to get along. You want them to
appreciate and respect each other. You want peace
in your house.
• If siblings are fighting, be calm and determine
if anyone is hurt or if there are dangerous
objects involved. If there aren’t any, tell your
children they need to work it out.
• Fights often occur over property and personal
space. Have clear rules about what things in
the house are to be shared, and what things are
private. It’s up to the owner to decide to share
private things.
• Try not to compare your children. Treat each
child as an individual.
• Give each child a chance to have your
undivided attention.
• Ask your children to come up with ideas about
how to get along better. However, you are
the one who decides which of their ideas
make sense.
Everyone in the house needs to be treated with
respect and should feel safe.
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Dealing with sibling rivalry
Sibling rivalry is one way children learn how to
deal with conflict. If possible, let children work out
the problem on their own. Step in only when the
children can’t seem to work things out and the
conflict might get out of hand.
Bad Language
Your child will probably pick up some bad
language at school or from the media.
Sometimes children start using bad
language to fit in.
• Let your child know that swearing or
crude language is not okay at your
house. Make it clear that you expect
your child to obey this rule in school
as well.
• Pay attention to your own language. If
you swear your child will copy you.
• Never wash children’s mouths out
with soap or any other nasty tasting
item. That behavior is disrespectful of
children and teaches that parents can
do bad things to children.
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Find a better word
There have probably been times in your
life when you stubbed a toe or hit your
thumb with a hammer. Your first response
may have been a “bad” word. Children
have similar experiences. Help your child
come up with better words to use.
“I know my
child picks up
a lot of bad
language at
school. I don’t
want those
words used at
Talking Back
“My child has
gone way
beyond ‘sassy.’
I refuse to have
a child in my
house who talks
back all the
It is easy to get angry when your child doesn’t
show respect. You can help your child learn to
not talk back and what respect means by the
way you respond.
• Tell your child that you want to listen, but you
will not listen until both of you have a chance
to calm down.
• Apologize if you get angry and shout. This
way you are teaching your child what respectful
behavior is.
• When you are both calm, tell your child clearly
what specific words or tone of voice you
thought was disrespectful. Tell your child how
this makes you feel. Tell your child what you
expect in the future.
• Give your child a chance to try again.
Hopefully, your child will have learned from
your example and will apologize, but an
apology should not be forced.
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It’s okay to apologize to your child
Tell your child, “I really lost my temper earlier.
I’m sorry that I made you feel bad. I wasn’t being
respectful.”. None of us is perfect. This helps
children learn to apologize to you and to others
in their life.
About Spanking
Discipline is teaching. It is forwardlooking and respectful. Spanking
not discipline . It is punishment.
Punishment is backward-looking and is not
respectful to a child. Spanking shows a
child that parents are bigger than they are
and violence is the way to settle issues. A
spanked child focuses on feeling hurt and
angry and not on learning what was done
that was wrong. What are some reasons
parents give for spanking?
“Spanking works for me.”
Spanking gets your child’s attention and it stops
the misbehavior—only at that moment. Spanking
doesn’t teach children what you expect of them,
or how to behave in the future. It also doesn’t
teach children how to behave when their parents
aren’t there to see that the rules are followed.
Spanking does not create positive feelings and
can discredit the parent as a model and teacher.
“If you don’t spank a child, he
will be spoiled.”
Spanking does not keep children from becoming
spoiled. Children who are spoiled have learned
to get what they want with tears and tantrums.
Parents who spoil their children often do too
much for them, instead of helping them learn
to do things for themselves. The best way to
keep children from being spoiled is to give
them love and set limits along with clear rules
about behavior.
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Your emotional bank account
Think of parenting as an emotional bank account
with your child. Every positive thing you do—
hugging, praising, encouraging, teaching a skill,
and enforcing a rule—is a deposit in this account.
Every negative thing you do—yelling, spanking,
shaming—is a withdrawal from this account.
You need to make many more deposits than
withdrawals to have a good relationship with
your child.
“I try not to spank, but there are times
when nothing else works.”
Often parents can only think of one thing to do when
a child misbehaves: spank. Parents usually spank when
they are angry or frustrated. The good news is there
are many other ways you can learn to respond to your
child’s behavior. Parents who begin using other ways
to discipline their children generally find out they work
better than spanking.
“Spanking is part of my culture.”
Spanking may be acceptable in particular cultures, but
that does not mean that it is a good way to teach children
desired behavior and how to control themselves.
“I was spanked and turned out okay.”
Most adults who were spanked as children do grow up to
be okay. However, this is not because they were spanked.
It is because their families also used other forms of
discipline that were positive. We know from research that
being spanked as a child can lead to problems such as
depression, domestic violence, and chemical abuse. Most
adults say they recall the times they were spanked.
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Spanking has long-term effects
When you spank your child, your child learns that hitting
is the way to solve problems. Your child may continue
to hit others throughout life, even when taking care of
elderly parents!
When your child
makes you angry
Nearly every parent knows
how angry you can become
when a child doesn’t behave.
Here are some things to keep
in mind:
• Remember, it is your
child’s behavior that makes
you angry, not your child.
• Spanking and other
punishments will not teach
your child self-control and
what to do instead.
• Be sure your child is
capable of doing what
you expect.
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We all have really
stressful days
Sometimes parents may
react to a child’s annoying
behavior in a negative way
because they are tired,
stressed, or angry at someone
or something else. If this
happens often parents need to
find ways to get more sleep,
eat better, or talk to a friend
or professional who can help
think of ways to deal with
anger and children’s behavior.
Four steps to control your anger
1. Stop!—Take a moment to cool off. Wait until you
are calm before you discipline your child.
2. Look and Listen—What is the problem? What has
caused your child to misbehave? Do you know for sure
that your child did misbehave? Is your child’s behavior
normal for the age of your child?
3. Think—What do you want your child to learn?
What can you do to help your child learn self-control?
How do you expect your child to behave?
4. Act—Carry out your decision.
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Ideas to help you calm down
• Count to ten very slowly. Think about the counting,
or something that makes you happy, instead of your
child’s behavior.
• Put your hands in your pockets. This will help you
from using them to threaten or hit your child.
• Close your eyes. Take a deep breath, and let it
out slowly. Pretend you are releasing steam from
your body.
• Get away from the situation. Go to another room or
take a walk. (Do this only if it is okay for your child to
be alone or if there is someone to watch your child.)
• Talk about the problem with your partner, a friend,
or a relative.
• If you want support as a parent contact Circle
of Parents, a program of Prevent Child Abuse
Minnesota at 1-800-CHILDREN, 1-800-621-6322,
or www.pcamn.org.
Time Out
More about
“time out”
• “Time out” is often
used when a child
misbehaves. “Time
out” works for both
parents and children,
because it helps
everyone calm down.
• Do not use “time
out” too often.
• “Time out” should
never be used with
children under the
age of 3 years.
• Parents need to be
calm, but firm, when
they put a child in
“time out.”
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What is “time out?”
“Time out” means taking a child away from a
frustrating or stressful situation to help the child
calm down. “Time out” gives both children and
parents a chance to calm down.
How to use “time out”:
• Find a “time out” spot that is comfortable and
safe. It should be away from other activities and
away from where your child was misbehaving.
• If your child tries to leave “time out” before
getting calm, gently return the child and say,
“You can return to play when you are calm and
ready to behave.
• When your child is calm, talk about why the
“time out” was needed and what you expect in
the future. If your child hurt another child, ask
how the other child may feel. Give your child a
chance to comfort the other child and offer an
apology. Plan how to keep the child in control
in the future. If something was knocked over,
have the child pick it up. This gives your child a
chance to correct the behavior.
• Be sure to praise your child when the behavior
calms down and the child returns to activities
without problems.
More ideas:
• Some parents choose to use a timer. Give
one minute of “time out” for each year of
your child’s age. For example, if your child is
four years old, the “time out” would be four
• As children get older, try having them leave
“time out” when they are ready. This helps a
child to know when they have calmed down.
• It is okay to let your child read a book or work
on a puzzle while in “time out.” Pick toys or
books that help your child calm down.
• Encourage children to take a “time out” on
their own when they feel the need to calm
down or take a break.
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Using “time out!”
“Time out” can be used to prevent misbehavior.
Ask your child to take a time out as a way to calm
down before a situation gets out of control. “Time
out” can also be used when a child misbehaves. It
gives everyone a chance to cool down. After “time
out” is over, you can discuss the problem behavior
with your child.
Resources for Parents
Community resources
Remember that your child’s health care providers are a primary source of
information about healthy parenting. Talk to them about your child’s health
and wellness. Your child’s behavior may be a symptom of other concerns
that your provider should be informed of.
Call the Parent Warmline at (612)-813-6336 with questions about your
child’s behavior or development. The Warmline is a free person-to-person
telephone consultation service of Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of
Minnesota. It is staffed by professionally trained volunteers who will return
your call with practical advice, encouragement, and help in connecting
with other community resources. Children’s Hospitals and Clinics website:
Visit the University of Minnesota Extension parenting website at
www.parenting.umn.edu for information about practices that foster
parent-child communication, nurturing and respectful discipline
practices, strong parent-child relationships, and parenting skills.
Early Childhood and Family Education (ECFE) offers group education and
support to parents of young children in Minnesota. Look in the telephone
directory for the phone number of the program in your local school district.
More resources for parents
Brazelton, T. Berry, MD and Joshua Sparrow, MD. (2003). Discipline: The
Brazelton Way. Perseus Publishing: Jackson, TN.
Butler, S., & Kratz, D. (1999). The Field Guide to Parenting: Comprehensive
Handbook of Great Ideas, Advice, Tips and Solutions for Parenting Children
Ages One to Five. Chandler House Press: Worcester, MA.
Steinberg, Laurence (2005). The Ten Basic Principles of Good Parenting.
Simon & Schuster: New York, NY.
Minnesota Parents Know website. Minnesota Department of Education.
This publication is a revision of Positive Discipline: A
Guide for Parents, published by University of Minnesota
Extension and Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota,
1999. The content is adapted from Positive Parenting, a
curriculum developed by University of Minnesota Extension,
the resources and knowledge of dedicated professionals,
and the wisdom of parents. The original writers were Tracy
Habisch-Ahlin, writer; and Rose Allen, writer and project
manager (Extension Educator- Family Relations), University
of Minnesota Extension.
Revised by Kimberly Greder, Associate Professor of Human
Development and Family Studies and Family Life, Extension
State Specialist, Iowa State University.
Reviewed by Kathleen A. Olson and Rose Allen, Extension
Educators—Family Relations, University of Minnesota
Extension; Marty Rossmann, PhD, Coordinator, Parent
Warmline; Amy Wynia, Child Life Specialist; and Mary
Braddock, MD, MPH, Senior Director Child Health Advocacy
and Policy, Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.
Project management by Kathleen A. Olson and Heather Lee,
University of Minnesota Extension.
For more information on parenting, visit www.parenting.umn.edu
or www.childrensmn.org.
Copyright © 2009, Regents of the University of Minnesota. All
rights reserved. Send copyright permission inquiries to:
Copyright Coordinator
University of Minnesota Extension
405 Coffey Hall
1420 Eckles Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55108
Email: [email protected]
FAX: 612-625-3967
To order additional copies, visit http://shop.extension.umn.edu
or call 1-800-876-8636. Print versions are available in English
and Spanish. For electronic versions in Hmong or Somali,
visit www.extension.umn.edu/parenteducation or
For Americans with Disabilities Act accommodations, please call
The University of Minnesota and Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of
Minnesota are equal opportunity educators and employers.
Positive Discipline: A Guide for Parents
(item 07461—single; item 08623—package of 25)
Positive Discipline: A Guide for Parents was developed
in conjunction with Children’s Hospitals and Clinics and
University of Minnesota Extension. This easy-to-read booklet
looks at the common parenting challenges for children, birth
through early elementary years. It gives parents ways to
address behavior using positive discipline techniques that
really work.